Halloween Endurance Test: the Funhouse (1981)

Another outside submission to the Halloween Endurance Test, Tobe Hooper‘s the Funhouse was a shoo-in. A movie about a traveling carnival’s seedy underbelly, filmed by the man who made both Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist? The spiritual successor to Tod Browning’s classic Freaks, with a bit of David Friedman’s She Freak thrown in, and taking its stylistic cues from choice parts of James Bond’s Diamonds are Forever? It’s practically a documentary of my mind!

Testament to Hooper’s vision, one scene has a brilliant crane shot of the carnival. It really looks as if he had as close to a lifelike replica of a carnival as he could afford to built! The only flaw is it appears that the carnival is only intended to last one night; packing up, as they do, at the end of the night. Most fairs will stay in town a couple weeks to minimize any chance of bad weather ruining a profitable run.

Maybe it’s because of my lack of familiarity with “carny law” but you do get a general feeling of unease watching this film. Even with the heroine’s little brother, who surreptitiously follows her to the carnival, one gets the feeling he could die if caught. (The murder of children being one transgressive act that most horror films won’t even touch.)

Apparently sneaking into funhouses to screw around is a teen sexual rite of passage. I must’ve missed that course in high school. I can understand making out in those little motorized buckets people sit in, but fooling around up in the rafters next to a black-lit, screeching witch head? I figure that would kill the mood, rather than set it (pun intended!).

It goes without saying though, that the film’s titular funhouse does bring to mind the alien spaceship from Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Two films that could play back-to-back if one wanted to make a circus-themed night of horror.

The film’s scariest scene is the one where the “more experienced” female is trapped by the funhouse owner’s mutant son, and offers herself for him. It brings to mind every eighties blame the victim theory ever proposed into law; only this time acting it out on the screen. As unlucky in life (genetics?) as he is in love, the beast with two faces makes the beast with two backs, only to end up with a knife in his.

Not so scary though, is the mutant boy who, while failing as a franchise monster, still serves as the movie’s catalyst. He spends the movie sexually frustrated after a short encounter with the carnival’s resident psychic. (Note to self: akin to apes, carnies should never kill carnies.)

She evokes a law nearly as old as the world’s oldest profession; maintaining that she only provides the meat of a course, it’s up to you to decided whether it serves as an entree or an appetizer. Unfortunately for her, you shouldn’t argue over prices with a man who’s head has two faces. He can, after all, continue to argue with you as his other face chews through yours.


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